Public policy trumps over at-will employment

If you had a good job with a highly-valued tech company, could you be lured away by a competitor that promised to be bigger and better?

That’s exactly what one former Snapchat employee claims happened. The ex-employee claims he was lured away by the Facebook rival after being given inflated growth metrics by Snapchat recruiters.

Maybe the recruiters were hoping to entice him away with a “carrot and stick” combination, offering him better pay or benefits and hinting that job security at Facebook might be a thing of the past. The lawsuit doesn’t specify why the employee took the job with Snapchat. It does, however, allege that the whole thing was a ruse, with figures purposefully inflated to impress him.

He claims that he was actually recruited because Snapchat wanted to pump him for proprietary information belonging to Facebook, which he wouldn’t supply.

He also alleges that he wasn’t the only one shown inflated metrics that made Snapchat look poised to be bigger and better than its rival. He says potential investors were shown the same user-engagement metrics in a bid to increase the value of the company’s initial public offering on the stock exchange. When the employee failed to play along and expressed his concerns with several senior executives, he found himself fired just three weeks after he started.

Most employees can be fired at-will, as long as the reason for the firing isn’t related to discrimination. Given that he wasn’t discriminated based on his age, race, sex, sexual orientation, disability, marital status, religion, national origin or gender identity, how does this become a suit about wrongful termination?

That’s because employees also can’t be fired based on something that goes against the benefit of public policy. In this case, asking him to do something illegal, like disclose proprietary information about Facebook, would be considered contrary to public policy because of the economic effects it could have.

In addition, refusing to go along with figures that he believed were incorrect when interacting with potential investors would be against public policy because the public has a right to accurate representation of the financial facts of any company open for investment.

Finally, employers are prohibited from terminating someone who blows the whistle on potentially illegal or misleading activity. Whistleblowers are also, in essence, acting on behalf of the public, so firing a whistleblower is also an act of discrimination and wrongful termination.

Source: FindLaw, “At-Will Employment and Wrongful Termination,” accessed Jan. 20, 2017